Furthermore, there isn't any real damage to me. It's just social slander among a tiny group of people whom I rarely see and to their credit, it doesn't seem like they're spreading it beyond themselves. So it doesn't affect my life or job or reputation in general.
Therefore, despite the fact that I faced the irresistible desperation to prove my own version of events, I let it go after one instinctive (and likely impermissible) attempt to defend myself.
In the spirit of Rav Ofer Erez's ideas discussed on this blog, I realized that Hashem wants me to be the kind of person who can find herself in this kind of frustrating and infuriating situation without falling into petty or vengeful behavior herself.
AND without obsessively thinking about what I wish I could say to them or raging at the unfairness of it all.
(And just for knowing: In addition to this blog being anonymous, I've blurred details of the situation. No one can know who I'm talking about and I doubt that even the people involved would identify themselves if they came across this post.)
What's the Message in this Nisayon?
The person bearing tales genuinely felt she was doing the right thing.
She wanted to be helpful.
She honestly thought that if I knew how other people claimed to feel about me, it would inspire me to make peace with them.
She didn't realize that I had tried to make peace with them, but they instinctively lean toward a kind of unhealthy relationship that I find unacceptable. Even when gently informed directly of their hurtful behavior, they didn't stop and sometimes refused to even acknowledge their "mistake." Eventually, I saw that they couldn't stop themselves. Maybe one day they will be able to, but they aren't able to now.
Anyway, she only heard their side of the story and what she heard was a mix of truth and falsehood. Not wanting to accept that they had behaved as badly as they had, their minds instinctively either white-washed or ignored a lot of obvious stuff. I realized that nobody was consciously out to get me and that they didn't realize they were lying. They were saying the truth as they saw it. But it still really bothered me because it just wasn't true and it made me look so bad.
But had she reviewed the laws of lashon hara l'toelet (the laws regarding negative speech that has toelet: a necessary and beneficial purpose), she never would have said the words that caused me so much unnecessary pain and, contrary to her intent, made things worse.
So I realized that I needed to review these laws myself.
It's a very easy area to stumble in and even the best person could make exactly the same mistake she did.
Hashem obviously wants to alert me to this area of halacha.
So regarding the following halachot on lashon hara l'toelet, I'm reminding myself just as much as I'm reminding anyone else.
(It's culled from The Laws of Interpersonal Relationships: Practical Applications in Business, Home, and Society by Rabbi Avrohom Ehrman on pages 196-198. I have an older edition formerly entitled: Journey to Virtue. This is a fantastically helpful book.)
1) First of all, the majority of lashon hara l'toelet is protective...meaning, you are protecting the listener from the person of whom you're speaking:
- You're protecting a business man from taking on an unethical partner.
- You're protecting a single woman from marrying someone who abused his first wife.
It's not always protective, but it often is.
2) Secondly, you need to put aside all dislike or feelings of revenge or gratification.
Your intentions must be good, and based on the benefit of the person to whom you're speaking and not based on "sticking it" to the person of whom you're speaking negatively.
You must concentrate solely on a need-to-know basis. This is admittedly difficult to do if you're unsympathetic to the person of whom you're speaking, but it is necessary to discipline your mind and heart as much as possible in this matter.
Practically speaking, forcing yourself into a neutral emotional state actually assists you in getting your point across.
When you feel smug about the lashon hara l'toelet, you're more likely to smirk, sneer, giggle, or show other signs of pleasure (even without realizing it). These signs of pleasure make it harder for your listener to take your warning seriously, no matter how much proof you have of the other person's wrongdoing. You just look like you're trying to stick it to the other person.
3) You must be relatively sure the person will believe you.
If the person won't believe you, there's no point to the lashon hara, making it not l'toelet. Furthermore, telling lashon hara to people who won't believe you generally makes them dislike you. Often, they will strenuously defend themselves or the person of whom you're warning them. This is frustrating, especially if you see them hurt themselves via their relationship with this problematic person, but this is how life goes sometimes.
Now we're going to look at the 3 laws to follow when speaking lashon hara l'toelet:
- Avoid Excess Damage
(You'll see there is some overlapping of these categories.)
Truth & Accuracy
People make mistakes or face extenuating circumstances. It doesn't mean they are bad or even that they've done something wrong. It depends.
Also, you may be wrong in your understanding of the halacha.
2) NO embellishment! No putting your own spin on things or including your own analysis. "Just the bare facts, ma'am." (In my situation above, the tale-bearer actually embellished the lashon hara originally said about me, making what was presented to me even worse than what was originally said. Again, it was done with the idea that I'd feel so bad that I'd make peace with people who'd repeatedly hurt me, but despite the tale-bearer's good intentions, it is completely forbidden to exaggerate the original words of slander...which weren't supposed to be repeated in the first place.)
If you do need to offer your own perception, you must clear that you are doing so, that you've just left the arena of absolute fact and have entered into speculation. (It's best to consult with a wise and discerning posek before deciding to go this route.)
3) Just the absolute facts.
- Could you speak to the transgressor directly before speaking to others?
- If the wrong-doer knew he was transgressing, would he stop?
- Is it possible to convince the transgressor to mend his ways?
If so, then there is no heter to speak to others about him. You speak to him first.
(In my situation above, there was no necessity to speak about me originally or to pass on the rechilut to me. I'd already spoken with the people involved. They knew how I felt and I knew how they felt. They had no need to tell anyone else because they'd already told me. And the tale-bearer had no necessity to pass on their lashon hara because I already knew how they perceived things.)
But in a situation where there is a real need to speak up, it goes as follows:
1) Only on a need-to-know basis.
For example, your friend only needs to know that his potential business partner runs scams. He doesn't need to know that the potential business partner runs scams AND also always finishes off the donuts at office parties. If just the knowledge that he runs scams is enough to put your friend off from working with him, then that's all you say.
2) Try hints, allusions, or finessing the conversation.
If the information can be given over in hints and allusions OR conducted in a way that your friend comes to the correct conclusions by himself, then THAT is how you should give over the information.
Avoid Excess Damage
1) Tell only WHO needs to know.
For example, you may be allowed to tell your friend of a potential partner's unethical tendencies, but you may not make a public proclamation that drives him out of town or ruins his business. Only your friend needs to know. The whole town doesn't need to know.
BTW, if everyone knows something bad about a certain person, it makes it very difficult for them to ever do teshuvah. Not impossible, but difficult to live out their new and improved self among people who can't change their view of them based on what was spread.
(Note: There is a place for public proclamations of a transgressor, but a wise and insightful posek should be consulted about such situations.)
2) Make sure your friend will believe you.
What's the fallout from warning someone who won't believe you?
- They see you as a busybody, a drama queen, or a liar.
- They dig their heels in and sympathize with their potential abuser even more, resolving to protect the wrong-doer, whom they now see as a victim.
- They may even attack you out of a sense of misplaced loyalty.
- You feel hurt about not being believed. What do they think you are, some kind of liar?
- Tempted to prove your toelet, you may spill out even more information than halachically permitted.
- You now like your friend less than you did before, especially if they attack you for trying to protect them from a person who can harm them.
See? No toelet.
(In my situation above, I already held a very strong opinion regarding the people who slandered me. The opinion was based on months of struggle and fruitless attempts at problem-solving and introspection. I was no longer ready to believe that the people who slandered me actually "care about you soooo much....", as reported by the well-intended tale-bearer. So there was no point in telling me and hearing it just made me feel impotent and resentful. But had she followed the first 2 steps of confirming Accuracy and Necessity, she never would've stumbled into the rechilut that caused Excess Damage, rather than the Wonderful Peace she intended to promote.)
Dissing Yourself or Confiding in Your Bosom Buddy
- Lashon hara about yourself
- The need to emotionally relieve yourself of pain and anxiety
I intend to address these in upcoming posts.
People tend to be very lax with both these two forms of lashon hara (making them NOT l'toelet), which we see from the way so many good people commonly reveal quite a lot of negative stuff about themselves (possibly under the impression that it's a form of humility or permitted because they give themselves permission; really they're not even thinking about it because it doesn't feel like lashon hara) and the way that people tend to spill out quite a lot to a spouse, parents, siblings, and close friends.
About these two forms, people honestly don't seem aware they need to be careful.
And let's face it: Particularly with lashon hara about oneself, it's not discussed as often as protective lashon hara l'toelet, which comes up a lot regarding shidduchim and business.
Needless to say, I'm no expert in hilchot lashon hara, so any questions should be directed toward an expert who is wise and discerning.
The above is just an overview.
May Hashem protect us all from stumbling in forbidden speech.